Garden clean-up for dry-climate groundcovers


Lawn replacement is getting some well-deserved buzz and I’m an advocate myself. Unfortunately, ground’s gotta be covered, so what groundcovers do the job with few or no inputs and little to no care? (Something other than English ivy, please.)

That’s the big question in the less-lawn movement, and it’s turned me into a groundcover geek of sorts. They’re so important yet get so little love!

Groundcovers are also in the news in drought-stricken and always-dry places, where gardeners are turning to super-drought-tolerant groundcovers like never before. Even Easterners are adapting their gardeners for a future with longer droughts between more extreme precipitation events.  That’s gardening in the age of climate change for ya.  Interesting times!


That brings us to the perennial question of garden clean-up and whether leaves can stay in borders and on top of groundcovers.  Lamb’s ear and sedum, hailing from dry spots in the world, like to stay that way. In their natural habitats they’re nowhere near deciduous forests, so it’s no surprise that they suffer under layers of wet leaves.


Above, a groundcover Sedum (S. sarmentosum) that I’m raking regularly.


Thyme’s another groundcover that, if I were growing it, I’d keep it free of leaves. Here it’s growing at Chanticleer Garden, on a hillside in amended soil with great drainage.


On the other hand, woodland groundcovers like Golden Groundsel don’t seem to mind being buried under wet leaves.  It’s my new favorite groundcover because it can handle shade, it spreads quickly, it’s evergreen, and it’s even native.  Shown here in late spring.


I’m also a big fan of groundcover Carexes, which can also withstand leaf cover. Here’s ‘Ice Dance’ in my garden with a fading ‘Ogon’ Spirea, and sweetgum leaves.


  1. My current favourite ground cover is the slowly spreading Veronica ‘Whitley’s Speedwell.’ Just can’t get enough of that deep saphire blue in the early spring! Plus it’s evergreen, drought tolerant and grows really well in my limestoney clay soil (on a slope).

  2. Persicaria affinis ‘Superba’, I can’t believe all of the fantastic Persicaria plants that they use over in Europe and no one here has heard of. Some of the Persicarias are invasive and will run wild through your garden, however this one is easily managed and fantastic. I have some difficult clay soil that gets waterlogged, I have killed many plants there, this little persicaria grows beautifully, blooms all summer, and fills in.

    I have spent this year buying up many different ground covers. I don’t want to be a slave to mulch every year, I am getting older you know. That thyme is beautiful, I put some up at the cottage on the sandy septic bed, I’m hoping it ends up looking like that.

  3. Love ground covers. Have sedums, thymes, Veronica waterperry, myrtle, Canadian and European gingers, ground and wood phlox, woodruff and more. I HATE trying to get leaves out. Even if they can handle wet matted leaves you still need to remove some of the leaves. Raking rips some of them out. Or the tines get tangled. Blowers are either too strong or too weak. My knees and back protest hand removal. I enjoy raking leaves in grass. Grass is a great ground cover if you don’t succumb to the putting green look.

  4. Very good advice on how to clean up these popular ground covers- especially right now with all of the leaves falling and getting everywhere. I live in the midwest and I’ve also taken to the better lawn alternative movement, although instead I’ve been replacing my expanse of open property with native grasses and such that I never mow. Seems unkempt I think to many of those around me that keep an acre of perfect lawn, but I enjoy the love that the wildlife has been showing me, and of course my free-range chickens enjoy it too. 🙂

    There are areas that are rocky and dry right around my home and I love the idea of hardy creeping thyme as a ground cover in these spots. I’ll remember to remove the heavy wet fall leaves when I do establish these areas with dry-loving ground covers.

    Thank you!

  5. I love lamb’s ear and I never thought of thyme as a ground cover. We can never keep it alive in a pot in my nest, but maybe if I try it in the ground I will have more luck. Happy Nesting.

  6. I love thyme and have several different types growing for ground cover, adding different colors and textures. It spreads well and the bees and butterflies love it too. However, it does take some maintenance, at least here in zone 7-ish Oregon; if it’s not occasionally pruned, it gets leggy and scraggly-looking. But who doesn’t need thyme in the kitchen? I also like the fact that it smells so nice, (and so do I after working in it).

    Another fave ground cover of mine is “Snow-in-summer” (cerastium tomentosum). It spreads like a weed, with silvery foliage when the carpet of white flowers is done. If you cut the dead flowers back, it will continue to bloom throughout the summer.

  7. Just killed the lawn in the back and replaced it with a few fruit trees and lots of ground cover – thyme and chamomile and scotch moss and statice (counting it as a groundcover even if it technically isn’t) and native grasses. It still has a long way to go, but I’m feeling quite proud of myself. A good bit of work (solo DIY) in rearranging dirt & drainage & converting sprinklers to drip, but remarkably cheap. I don’t think I spent more than a $200 on plants, and much of that was the fruit trees.

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